‘The Challenge’: Johnny Bananas on Returning for ‘Ride or Dies’ Feeling Like an ‘Outsider’
Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio is back on The Challenge after taking off a couple of seasons following his Total Madness win, and while Ride or Dies, given the drama and betrayal so prevalent on the MTV competition, might sound impossible, he doesn’t think so.
“We’ve said in the past, ‘Why not do a best friends or an allies season?'” Devenanzio tells TV Insider. “What we weren’t expecting is that they would they’d take the term Ride or Dies outside of The Challenge and bring on people who were siblings or people who had significant others.”
Because they did, “we were all very curious to see how it all played out because you always run a risk bringing people [who’ve never been on TV before] on a show like The Challenge that requires really strong, really intense, really over the top, kind of in your face personalities,” he explains. “Not only do they not know the ropes and how to carry themselves, but it’s also a very difficult environment to try and survive it with the people who’ve been there for a while.”
Devenanzio tells us more about Ride or Dies, partnering with Nany Gonzalez, and returning to The Challenge. (He’ll also be featured in MTV Books’ How to Win at The Challenge and Life: A Champion’s Guide to Eliminating Obstacles, Winning Friends, and Making That Money, out October 25.)
The last time you did a Challenge, you won. So coming into this season, how were you feeling? Same as you did previous seasons coming in after a win?
Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio: No, it had been a while. Total Madness was my first win in, I think, six seasons. It was just coming back after taking a break for two seasons. I had never in my illustrious Challenge career, which spans 17 years and 21 seasons now, intentionally taken a season off. The only three seasons that I didn’t do, I basically didn’t fit the theme for whatever reason. Going into Total Madness, I had done 13 seasons in a row. When you are continually on season after season, I guess you’d compare it to a sport where you’re practicing all the time, and when you’re in that head space and in that zone, you are able to navigate with relative ease.
But when you take time off, the game continues on, and the game speed changes, and not just the speed of the game but also the cast changes a lot, too. Just in the two seasons that I was gone, I walked into the house, and I didn’t know 90 percent of the people. That was an unfamiliar feeling because I had done so many seasons in a row, I was used to going in and knowing just about everyone. I didn’t know how I was gonna be received coming back into the season after winning my seventh challenge and just with the reputation that I bring along.
And I just didn’t know what the game was gonna be like. I didn’t know if I was still gonna have the mental and physical, and strategic prowess to be able to compete at a high level. So as much as I wanna say I was going in confidently and I was gonna pick up where I left off, I had some questions myself in that regard.
So how was the game for you?
It was interesting. Based on the format, the theme, and the people who were there, there were so many new people that — and me and Nany actually entered the game late as a surprise twist — I truly felt like an outsider. It was a strange feeling. I’m like, “this is what it must feel like to be a rookie on The Challenge,” because you’re walking into this house where all these alliances and the game has already been done, and we’re coming in late, and it’s like, “alright, this is great. As if I’m not gonna have a big enough target on my back as it is with the wins that I have, the reputation that I have. In addition to that, let’s bring me into a game where I don’t know anybody and bring me in late where there’s gonna even be even more attention put on us.”
The spotlight was incredibly bright walking in, but that’s when I perform the best. So I was open to the challenge, and I thought it was an appropriate way for me to reenter the game. It would’ve been boring, or a little lackluster had I just showed up and ingratiated myself into the game with the rest of the cast.
You and Nany have been partners before. How’d you decide to work together this time?
There was obviously a few different options, but when MTV reached out and were like, “we want you to submit a few names of females in your life who you would consider a best friend or a ride or die,” Nany was obviously the first one that came to mind. I’ve known her, and I’ve been closer to her than any other girl that’s ever played the game.
Our relationship obviously has run all aspects of the spectrum, and over the years, we’ve had really great moments together. We’ve had our fair share of blowups and fights. We’ve had some really memorable moments on The Challenge together, just working together, competing together, going to finals together. It’s just crazy how The Challenge bonds you with people in a way unlike anything else. The amount of time that you spend with somebody in the Challenge house, when you’re subjected to the type of emotional and mental rigors that comes along with being [there], it bonds you in a really, really deep and unique way. [We] are bonded like that.
I feel like Nany’s had a rough go a few seasons, and she’s gotten so close to winning so many times. I was just hoping that I’d be able to be that missing link or the piece of the puzzle that would help her finally pull one across the finish line. I don’t wanna say that some people deserve wins more than others, but based on the amount of time and based on what she’s contributed to the show over the years, I’ll say it, and I don’t care about saying it, she deserves to win more than anyone at this point.
What were your strengths and weaknesses as partners?
Obviously, we both have very strong personalities. Nany’s always had a great social game, but now she is a lot more honed in and focused on the game, whereas before, she used to be a lot more focused on the party and social aspect of the game. But she’s really locked in the last few seasons. And based on her relationship with Kaycee and then Kaycee’s relationship with all the Big Brother people — there are an awful lot of them now — and the fact that Nany’s done the last two seasons when I haven’t, she is really connected, and tied in socially in the house. Then based on the relationships that I have as well with some of the vets and other people, I think just the alliance and the numbers that we had and the game that we were able to play, just based on relationships that we had, that was definitely one of our strengths.
Weaknesses … Our communication sometimes isn’t the greatest. That comes along with us both having very intense personalities. We’re both very fiery. We both, in moments under pressure, get a little heated, and it comes out as almost like a couple feuding or a sibling rivalry. I will also say that our puzzle skills aren’t necessarily top-notch, but we’re able to get it done.
And I think maybe one of our other strengths is the fact that we have known each other for so long, we know each other so well, that we’re basically one and the same. We can understand what the other person wants to do or is doing or the way they’re feeling just based on how they’re acting.
There are some heavy hitters partnered up the season besides you two. Who did you consider your biggest competition?
Once we entered the game, we knew that this probably wasn’t gonna be the last twist. We knew that they were gonna keep on bringing the vets in and watching Darrell [Taylor] and Veronica [Portillo] and then Jordan [Wiseley] and Aneesa [Ferreira] walk in, obviously these are people that I’ve had a long relationship with, and I, in the past, have worked with. But anytime you see a Darrell or a Jordan walk into the game, you know that while they might help you in the political aspect and navigating through the challenge, whether they’re in your alliance or not, these are guys that if you see them in a final are gonna make your final a living hell to try and win.
I saw it in some ways making my game a little easier because it’s gonna be great to be able to potentially work with them in a veteran alliance and hold down the fort, but the other edge to that sword is, if I see these guys in a final, or if it comes down to some sort of a physical elimination, it’s gonna be a long day at the office.
Speaking of the eliminations, those have gotten wilder and more intense over the seasons. What can you say about this season’s?
Every season I come in, just when you think you’d seen it all — and I’ve seen hundreds upon hundreds of eliminations — I am absolutely mindboggled that they’re able to come up with not just new twists on old favorites but also just new eliminations and challenges that you couldn’t even dream up. They keep on getting bigger, bolder. This season is no different. The eliminations are every bit as physically [and] mentally draining as they’ve been in the past. And I gotta say, after watching the majority of them as an observer, I’m glad I wasn’t a part of them some of them. The eliminations are definitely gonna impress.
Do you plan to do another season after this?
Yeah, I feel like I took a nice little break. I feel like I gave my mind and body some time to adjust and to get rejuvenated. I feel like the fire has been lit again inside of me, and yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next installment is. If my schedule and the timing works out properly, then yeah, I’ll be there, will bells on.
What about All Stars?
I think the All Stars format is awesome. It’s definitely something that I would love to take part in. Depending on which one comes up next and my schedule, I’d do either one, happily.
The Challenge: Ride or Dies, Season Premiere, Wednesday, October 12, 8/7c, MTV